The student loan scandal

Colleges and universities are howling at an administration proposal to cut off federal student loans to institutions unless more than 35% of their graduates pay back the loans.  That would still allow for 65% to default on what they owe!  But even this mild requirement would put a lot of for-profit colleges out of business.  Their average rate of students paying back loans is 36%.  That means that 64% of their students blow off their loans, getting a free ride from American taxpayers who are putting them through college.

But the story at not-for-profit colleges and universities is not much better. Only 54% of public college graduates are paying back their loans. At private schools the rate is 56%.

Previously, banks made these loans, which the government guaranteed. In the case of defaults, taxpayers paid them back. Under the new system, the federal government cuts out the banks and just takes the losses directly.

This costs the government–that is to say, taxpayers– billions of dollars. The total amount of student debt is now $830 billion, which is more than the accumulation of all credit card debt! And a huge percentage of that obligation is now going to be paid back, leading some to call it a new mortgage bubble about to burst.

I know it’s hard to pay back student loans. One reason is that the quality of education many of these institutions are dishing out is very, very low. The institutions–many of which are turning out to be committing out and out fraud in getting students to borrow money they can never pay back–deserve a big share of the blame, as well as the corrupt system itself.

(My own institution, Patrick Henry College, refuses to take government money, even in the form of federal student loans. We try to make up for that in other forms of financial aid, drawing on private sources. It can be a hardship, but it’s worth it.)

See this and this.

Britain shrinks government

As our government is trying to be more “European” in asserting government control over the economy, Europe is going in the other direction.  Earlier, we looked at what Germany has done to prosper economically while the United States flounders.  Now Great Britain, in a coalition government of conservatives and moderates, is launching on a great experiment to shrink government and empower individuals.  From The Washington Post:

The Obama administration might be reasserting the government’s place in American life. But on this side of the Atlantic, the so-called Big Society vision of Britain’s new Conservative prime minister is of a nation with minimal state interference.

David Cameron’s 100-day-old ruling coalition is launching an effort to reduce the role of government, seeking to vest communities and individuals with fresh powers and peddling a new era of volunteerism to replace the state in running museums, parks and other public facilities. Supporters and opponents describe the campaign as the biggest assault on government here since the wave of privatizations by Conservative firebrand Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

The idea, one with distant echoes of the “tea party” movement in the United States, is to pluck decision making out of the hands of bureaucrats. Groups of like-minded parents and teachers, for instance, are being invited to open their own taxpayer-funded schools. The groups — not government school boards — will be able to determine the curriculum at these “free schools,” using their own discretion to make some subjects compulsory while omitting others they find objectionable or unnecessary, such as lessons on multiculturalism.

But the government’s push is also about pinching pennies in an age of austerity in Britain, which, like many nations including the United States, is heavily indebted and increasingly broke. Through the toughest budget cuts in generations, the new coalition is moving quickly to shrink the size of the state, with some estimates indicating as many as 600,000 public-sector job losses — or one in 10 — by 2015. At the same time, Cameron is backing legislation that would allow communities to take over, for instance, post office branches, staffing them with volunteers instead of paid workers.

“The Big Society is about a huge culture change, where people, in their everyday lives, in their homes, in their neighborhoods, in their workplace, don’t always turn to officials, local authorities or central government for answers to the problems they face,” Cameron said last month in a keynote speech on the issue.

In what it calls a “radical extension of direct democracy,” the new government is moving to give citizens the right to veto property-tax increases above certain limits. In an effort to hold the public sector more accountable, it is also pressing forward with plans to have communities directly elect police commissioners while forcing the publication of more-detailed crime statistics to give residents a better picture of how local forces are doing.

The new coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats is set to present legislation to dissolve the government health boards that once determined needs at public hospitals, which would allow doctors to become the ultimate deciders.

via Britain’s David Cameron seeks smaller government, more citizen involvement.

Combat troops are gone from Iraq

Does this mean the Iraq war is over?

The last American combat brigade in Iraq has left the country, the US military has said.

The 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division began crossing by land into Kuwait in the early hours of Thursday morning, said a spokesman.

The US combat mission in Iraq is scheduled to end on 31 August.

But the Pentagon has not confirmed that the move marks an early end to combat operations.

Most of the 4,000 Stryker Brigade troops drove out of Iraq in a convoy of armoured vehicles, say reports.

The journey along potentially hostile desert roads had been carefully planned for weeks.

Some of the brigade remained behind to complete logistical and administrative tasks but would leave the country by air later in the day, the Associated Press reported.

The BBC’s Jane O’Brien in Washington says the brigade’s departure after seven and a half years is a significant step.

But the Pentagon has stressed that the official end to Operation Iraqi Freedom – the US military mission in the country – remains scheduled for the end of the month.

Some 56,000 US troops are set to remain in Iraq until the end of 2011 to advise Iraqi forces and protect US interests.

Those soldiers will be armed but will only use their weapons in self-defence or at the request of the Iraqi government.

via BBC News – Last US combat brigade quits Iraq.

So did we win or lose?  Should we celebrate?  Or have we not seen the last of this war after all?

A classical musician on heavy-metal singers

Claudia Friedlander is a classical musician and voice teacher.  She was asked her opinion of five different male heavy metal singers.  (The link also plays samples of the music that she was analyzing.)  Notice that classical aesthetics contains principles that apply to every kind of music, without necessarily demolishing the more popular genres:

On Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden:

I have nothing but admiration for this singer. Listen how he starts off with a soft growl, then moves seamlessly into a well-supported, sustained high full-voice sound that then evolves into an effortless long scream! His diction is easily intelligible, regardless of the range he’s singing in or the effect he’s going for. He achieves an intensely rhythmic delivery of the lyrics without losing legato and musical momentum, something a lot of classical singers struggle with, especially when interpreting the many staccato and accent markings that crowd scores by Bellini, Donizetti, etc.

On Ozzy Osbourne:

This is a singer with decent diction and good musical instincts but no command of vocal technique. He is massively over-adducting his vocal folds while driving enough air through them to get them to speak, but his throat is so tight that there is no flow or resonance. His rhythmic punctuation of the lyrics is very distracting, in contrast with Singer #1 [Dickinson] who delivered his text with rhythmic accents that served, rather than detracted from the flow of music and poetry. It hurt my throat so much to listen to him that I was tempted to ask Cosmo how long his career lasted before he either washed out or needed surgery. The entire range of his singing is contained within a single octave – with the exception of the moment when he yells “Oh Lord!” a little higher, in my opinion the only quasi-free vocal sound on the entire track.

HT:  Webmonk

What China must learn from America

 The prominent Chinese general Liu Yazhou, possibly at great risk to himself, is calling upon his country to adopt American-style democracy and rule of law:

A Chinese general has warned his conservative Communist Party masters and People’s Liberation Army colleagues that China can either embrace American-style democracy or accept Soviet-style collapse.

While officers of similar rank have been rattling their sabres against US aircraft carriers in the Yellow and South China seas, General Liu Yazhou says China’s rise depends on adopting America’s system of government rather than challenging its presence off China’s eastern coast.

”If a system fails to let its citizens breathe freely and release their creativity to the maximum extent, and fails to place those who best represent the system and its people into leadership positions, it is certain to perish,” writes General Liu in the Hong Kong magazine, Phoenix, which is widely available on news stands and on the internet throughout China.

His article suggests China’s political and ideological struggles are more lively than commonly thought, and comes before a rotation of leaders in the Central Military Commission and then the Politburo in 2012.

”The secret of US success is neither Wall Street nor Silicon Valley, but its long-surviving rule of law and the system behind it,” he says. ”The American system is said to be ‘designed by genius and for the operation of the stupid’. A bad system makes a good person behave badly, while a good system makes a bad person behave well. Democracy is the most urgent; without it there is no sustainable rise.”

General Liu was recently promoted from deputy Political Commissar of the PLA Airforce to Political Commissar of the National Defence University. His father was a senior PLA officer and his father-in-law was Li Xiannian, one of China’s ”Eight Immortals” and one time president of China.

While many of China’s ”princelings” have exploited their revolutionary names to amass wealth and family power, General Liu has exploited his pedigree to provide political protection to push his contrarian and reformist views.

But his article is extraordinary by any standards. It urges China to shift its strategic focus from the country’s developed coastal areas including Hong Kong and Taiwan – ”the renminbi belt” – and towards the resource-rich central Asia. But he argues that China will never have strategic reach by relying on wealth alone.

”A nation that is mindful only of the power of money is a backward and stupid nation,” he writes. ”What we could believe in is the power of the truth. The truth is knowledge and knowledge is power.”

But such national power can only come with political transformation. ”In the coming 10 years, a transformation from power politics to democracy will inevitably take place,” he writes.

”China will see great changes. Political reform is our mission endowed by history. We have no leeway. So far, China has reformed all the easy parts and everything that is left is the most difficult; there is a landmine at every step.”

General Liu inverts the lesson that Chinese politicians have traditionally drawn from the collapse of the Soviet Union – that it was caused by too much political reform – by arguing reform arrived too late.

”Stability weighed above everything and money pacified everything, but eventually the conflict intensified and everything else overwhelmed stability,” he writes.

This is extraordinary by any standards, and it contains lessons for us Americans who have possibly taken for granted what we have.   “A bad system makes a good person behave badly, while a good system makes a bad person behave well.”  What a brilliant observation!   Our constitutional system of checks and balances minimizes the harm that a particular office holder or citizen can do, and our economic system channels even self-interest into a force for the greater good.  Conversely, corrupt systems–defined in part as lacking the rule of law–create corrupt people.

HT:  Adam Hensley (from one of the leading Australian newspapers)

Facebook connections

I am one of the few people left in the world who does not have a Facebook account.   Maybe I’ll get one one of these days.  Right now, it seems like just one more thing to check.  Still, I appreciate its potential for facilitating human interaction.  Commenter Todd wrote me this message:

In reading the comments about the decline of phone conversations, Facebook came up. I realized that, though I am friends with a few Cranach commenters on Facebook (Bror, FWS, Louis, WebMonk … that’s all I can think of), I don’t really know how to find other people I might talk to on a near-daily basis — on your site, that is. After all, we mainly use handles on your site, and even those using their real names aren’t always easy to find elsewhere. I know I’ve tried to find you on Facebook, but I never found an account I was sure was yours.

Anyhow, not sure if anyone else wants to get connected via Facebook, but if this is of interest to you and you want to do a post about it, my Facebook account can be found at Or, you know, if you do have an account, you can add me, too. Or not. People use their accounts differently, I understand.

But I enjoy seeing what glimpses I can catch of people when they’re not replying to a post or comment. It’s not always the same picture you get from reading more argumentative writings. In fact, I can’t remember the last political thing I said on Facebook. This might surprise some people.

Todd in a later message said how he appreciated following and getting to know his frequent political nemesis Bror.  “After all, once you realize someone isn’t just some political/theological firebrand, easily pigeonholed and stereotyped, well, you tend to view them more as they are, as humans.”

So he is inviting you to “friend” him.  (Nouns as verbs!  Hard for me to deal with!)  Beyond that, he suggests that anyone who would welcome further contact with Cranach commenters could just post as a comment his or her Facebook URL.  Whereupon you could friend and be friended.  So if you’d like to do that, do that!